Spike in passport applications extends wait times

9NEWS at 4 3/2/2017

KUSA - VERIFY – YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’LL FIND ANSWERS

A 9NEWS project to make sure what you’ve heard is true, accurate, verified. Want us to verify something for you? Email verify@9news.com

THE QUESTION

9NEWS viewer Laura Novotny contacted us because “the United States Passport application and reapplication process in Colorado is a total disaster.”

She and her family booked a trip to Belize for mid-June, but she’s worried she won’t get her family’s four passports in time.

Novotny and her family were recently turned away at a Lakewood post office even though they arrived before the time cutoff for processing passports.

“I asked why the process was so terrible, and why they didn't give citizens more accurate information,” Novotny wrote. “They blamed it on the Internet and the fact that so few post offices process passports now.”

The Verify team set out to find out whether that’s true, and what’s behind the lag in passport applications.

WHAT WE FOUND

We spoke with Will Cocks, a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. That’s the agency that handles passports.

He couldn’t answer whether Colorado has more or fewer passport process locations.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve added 300 locations [nationwide],” Cocks said. “We’ve also been trying to address communities that are underserved by adding locations in libraries, schools and community centers.”

A search of the State Department’s website showed 63 in-person locations in Colorado.

If there are more locations than in past, why are the wait times longer?

Simply put: More people are applying.

The State Department saw a 20 percent increase in passports issued from 2015 to 2016, and that number is expected to grow this year.

“This is going to be our peak year,” Cocks said

Here are the number of passports the State Department issued for the last four years and its projection for 2017:

  • 20 million anticipated for 2017
  • 18.7 million in 2016
  • 15.5 million in 2015
  • 14.1 million in 2014
  • 13.5 million in 2013

The spike in passports stems from a change in the law 10 years ago. That’s when U.S. citizens started to need passports to travel to Mexico and Canada.

The agency saw a surge of applications then, and now it’s seeing a surge of renewals.

“What we are telling people is eight weeks before travel, you should apply for your passport,” Cocks said. “That’s a little up from in the past when we would tell people four to six weeks.”

And you don’t have to go to an “acceptance facility” like a post office.

You can renew your passport by mail if you meet certain criteria like being at least 16 years old when your previous passport was issued.

If you’re getting a passport for the first time or don’t meet the criteria for a renewal by mail, you can click here to find a location near you that processes applications.

Finally, if you have to have a new passport in two weeks or less, you can visit the Colorado Passport Agency.

“It’s different from an acceptance facility,” Cocks said. “It’s a State Department location.”

The agency can process your passport in as little as eight days. Sometimes employees can even do it quicker if you have an emergency like the sudden death of family member who lives abroad.

The catch is there aren’t many locations. Colorado’s sole spot is in Denver.

People with passports expiring within a year should also considering renewing now, Cocks said.

Many countries require travelers to have valid passports for a certain period before or after your visit.

For example, most European countries require a valid passport for three months past the date of a person’s return flight.

Asian countries like China, Laos and Indonesia require six months from the date of entry, and India requires six months from the day a person applies for a travel visa.

Russia is six months from the date of a return flight.

To search travel requirements by country, click here.

BOTTOM LINE:

More people are trying to renew their passports this year -- slowing the application process down.

If you’re planning to travel outside the country, get your passport sooner rather than later.

And don't be afraid to call around to different acceptance facilities. Novotny was able to get an appointment for next week in Golden after the office in Lakewood said they were booked for two months.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment